For most of our history, pregnancy and childbirth were dangerous for both baby and mother. If we look at long-term trends in maternal mortality – the likelihood a woman will die from pregnancy-related causes – we see that every 100th to 200th birth led to the mother’s death.
Improvements in healthcare, nutrition, and hygiene mean maternal deaths are much rarer today. But women are still dying from pregnancy-related causes that are preventable.
The World Health Organization estimates that almost 300,000 women died from pregnancy-related causes in 2017. That’s 808 women every day.
In the chart here we see global maternal deaths by region. Two-thirds – 200,000 – occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa. 19% – 57,000 – occurred in South Asia.
This is partly attributed to the fact that many more babies are born in Asia and Africa than in other regions. But it is also largely the result of the much higher maternal mortality rates found in lower-income countries. Per birth, a woman in Nigeria is more than 200 times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than a woman in Sweden.
Maternal deaths by country
In the map we see the annual number of maternal deaths by country. Again, this is a reflection of both the number of births each year, and the probability that a mother will die as a result.
The five countries with the highest number of maternal deaths in 2017 were: Nigeria (67,000); India (35,000); Democratic Republic of Congo (16,000); Ethiopia (14,000); and Tanzania (11,000).